Opinion Columns & Blogs

Veteran gets, gives cause for thanks

For the most part, I’m a pretty thankful guy. As noted previously in this space, I have a great partner of 37 years — The Lovely Sharita; a beautiful daughter in Caitlin, who’s blessed us with a grandson, the über handsome and even-tempered Crouton, and a menagerie that includes a pug, lemon beagle and congenitally fat cat.

All of these people and pets have enriched my life, making this year’s Thanksgiving more thankful than ever.

And there’s another reason for giving extra thanks this year: Newspapers are still alive, allowing me to make a living doing what I love — writing about people and hopefully righting some wrongs along the way.

One of those wrongs dealt with the citizenship woes of Nipomo resident John De Sousa, whom I wrote about in August.

As a brief recap, John emigrated from the Portuguese Azores to New Bedford, Mass., in 1966. He received a Permanent Resident Card, also called a Green Card, and then passed his citizenship test.

In 1976, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, where his commanding officer said he was automatically a U.S. citizen now that he was serving his country. (Wrong.) And tore up his Green Card.

Meanwhile, the Immigration and Naturalization Service sent a certified letter to De Sousa’s old address on May 2, 1977, informing him that his citizenship would be denied if he didn’t attend a swearing-in ceremony in June of that year. John was now well into his first two stints in Korea and never received the letter.

Still believing he was a citizen as of 2003, John applied for veteran’s disability for a knee he blew out while in the service.

Rep. Lois Capps got him an appointment with the Department of Homeland Security (which oversees immigration matters) in Los Angeles.

Bottom line? They told him his case was so old he’d have to start the citizenship process over from square one. They sent him a little brochure on how to apply. In the interim, he applied for a new Green Card, filling out forms, getting fingerprinted and photographed by the FBI and sending in various filing fees.

While all of this was going on, the government said it was expediting his Green Card replacement. That was November 2008. That expeditious ability translated into the card arriving in early August of this year, but his name was misspelled — which made the card worthless.

When John and his fiancée, Linda Harrison, contacted Homeland Security about the error, a bureaucrat told them, “Homeland Security doesn’t make mistakes.” The bureaucrat then suggested they fill out another set of forms and start a new process.

When the piece on John hit the streets, Ron Waltman, commander of American Legion Post 432 in Cambria, rallied his troops with a letter-writing campaign, enlisting the help of Dennis Fercho, commander of the American Legion at the state level. The pressure apparently worked.

Linda said this week that the couple received a call from Rep. Capps’ office the day after the column came out. Capps told John not to do anything with the Green Card and that his case was before Homeland Security for review.

This time the agency got it right. The agent at Homeland Security told the couple that the situation was ridiculous for having been dragged out for so long. The agent then made an abbreviated citizenship test of 10 questions, which John aced. He paid no fees.

John and Linda traveled to the Pomona Fairgrounds last Wednesday, Nov. 18, where John was sworn in as a U.S. citizen along with some 2,000 others. On Monday, Nov. 23, he registered to vote in the next election.

Happy Thanksgiving John De Sousa, United States citizen.